Unfortunately, the 751-South debate is emblematic of the Board’s recent history. This entire debacle could have been avoided with better planning.
Durham is growing as a city and county (and that’s not a bad thing). Population growth includes expansion of the urban area. It includes new developments, and in some cases it inevitably includes major developments. Population growth strains our air, water, and land resources. But none of those factors needs to dangerously threaten our environmental resources the way 751-South does. The way we decide where and how to grow needs to be careful, but it doesn’t need to be contentious.
Boylan Development Company / Southern Durham Development resorted to extreme and immoral tactics primarily because their backs were against the wall. They invested an incredible amount of money acquiring the 167 acres of 751-South development land, and they staked a lot on attracting investors to the project. From news accounts, it seems that they were also overleveraged as a company. Without moving ahead on 751, they were in financial jeopardy.
Meanwhile, the way in which the developers wanted to move forward was unacceptable to those of us concerned with protecting Durham’s natural resources.
By the summer of 2010, there was no good solution. When both sides are playing in a zero- sum game, there is no compromise. If I had been a Commissioner on August 9th 2010, I would have sided with protecting Jordan Lake, and not with Commissioners Page, Howerton, and Bowser.
But if I had been on the Board two years earlier, I would have worked to avoid the entire problem. We can avoid these standoffs if the County lays down strict environmental planning guidelines, and Commissioners agree unanimously to uphold strict and consistent enforcement of the guidelines and development policy.
The false dichotomy of commissioners that are “pro-environment” and those that are “pro-business” leads inevitably to these conflicts. And, inevitably, sometimes the developers will win. That means the only guaranteed way to protect our environment is by finding a common ground, and sticking to it.